Dujardin claims festive freestyle final and LeMieux Christmas crown
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Day two at the LeMieux National Grand Prix Championships was a Christmas cracker with Britain’s fifteen finest putting their best hooves forward for freestyle glory.
First into the LeMieux arena, Becky Moody and Famke PF took an early lead and set the bar at an impressive height for the day’s competition. Clive Halsall, Stephen Clarke, Isobel Wessels, Sandy Phillips and Peter Storr rewarded the duo amply, who grooved to upbeat disco tunes, with 74.93%.
The first group of the day produced five strong performances. Dan Greenwood and Juliet Leighton’s Chevalier-O also opted for fun pop music earning 67.94%, with Nikki Barker and Durable showing a power packed routine to emphatic film music for 71.90%. Lisa Marriott and her own Valucio looked full of class with a light footed, elegant display to tunes from the Holiday and Spirit, they recorded 70.72%. Seasonal tunes were the order of the day for Nicola Buchanan who earned 72.72% for her festive freestyle on board Half Moon Dark Magic which included a Merry Christmas message from Queen Elizabeth to introduce the first halt salute.
Charlotte Dujardin saw the second group to go start in style with the pint sized Gio defying his size to rise to a magnanimous 88.05%. Their test to Valegro’s famed How to Train Your Dragon programme was packed with explosive flying changes, immaculate pirouettes and powerful piaffe/passage work.
With Ursula Bechtolsheimer’s evergreen performer Rubin Al Asad, Lara Butler rode to 79.68% for an eventual sixth place. Dancing to her Dire Straights freestyle, the experienced pair showed highlights in technical combinations with superb tempi changes on curved lines and extended canter into piaffe on the centre line in front of Isobel Wessels, our judge at C for the day. Lara looked suitably thrilled on her concluding halt salute rewarding ‘Rufus’ with plenty of praise and herself earning a cheer from the small group of ringside supporters and staff.
Another strong quintet of performances in this section saw a cinematic performance from Hayley Watson-Greaves and WG Rubins Nite. With plenty of highlights and a couple of small spooks from a characterful ‘Squeaks’, the score for this popular pair was 76.03%. Amy Woodhead presented Emma Blundell’s dainty and delightful Mount St John Kom Fairytale to well suited music and the pair earned 74.78%. Kate Cowell concluded the second group on 72.85%, with the Worcestershire rider opting for instrumental pop music including Fight Song and Amazing Grace for Audrey Laurence and Chris Richards’ Samba Dancer.
As first to go in our final group of the day, Emile Faurie posted a strong 78.73% with his 2018 WEG partner Dono Di Maggio, owned by Theodora Livanos. Their experience showed and a polished performance earned praise post-test from commentator Matt Frost who enjoyed the powerful, moving musical choices.
Bringing forward her second ride of the day Charlotte Dujardin gave us a magical performance to her Frozen compilation created by music maestro Tom Hunt. Emma Blundell’s iconic mare Mount St John Freestyle looked full of quality and showed off her outstanding movement with huge extensions, expressive passage, tidy pirouettes. There was a small mistake in the first set of one tempi changes, which were quickly put right by Charlotte in a second set performed on the centre line. The judges rewarded a fine test with 90.20% much to the delight of Charlotte. “I haven’t ridden that freestyle since the start of the year in Amsterdam, I haven’t even practiced it! I was really behind the music and spent time having to catch up instead of riding it,” Britain’s golden girl told us after her test. “I was really pleased with her [Freestyle] yesterday and she felt really good, there were still a few blips today but they’re easy to iron out and if I’d practiced more it would’ve been better! I watched both tests back yesterday and thought I’d ridden too safe and just sat there, Carl always says Tokyo isn’t here yet so don’t over do it but I thought it was safe. I went for more today and both horses felt really relaxed.”
“I was really happy with Freestyle, she goes in and always tries her best, when you have that feeling you can’t ask for more.”
Following Freestyle, Laura Tomlinson and her divine Rose of Bavaria, known as ‘Betty’, bopped to fun pop tunes from artist Sia. With so many highlights, including impressive combinations of steep passage half pass into piaffe and out into passage half pass again as well as changes on curved lines were duly rewarded with 79.95% “She answered every question and she never says no in the ring,” Laura enthused about her stable star, “She’s phenomenal to ride and I made it a difficult floorplan thinking about the future - it was complicated because I know it’s in her but it’s a bit of a head spinner when you’re in the early days! She’s very powerful and a lot of fun to ride, once she knows what she’s doing in that test she’s going to be awesome.”
The audience at home were treated to an emotive Lion King performance next up with Sonnar Murray-Brown and his own Erlentanz riding the test of their lives in the LeMieux arena. The horse has an outstanding ability to collect and extend, with highlights in the piaffe and canter pirouettes, as well as both all three extended paces including a walk with huge overtrack and swing. With plenty logging in to the Spectator Judging app to have their say, an impressed crowd gave a sense of what the judges would later deliver with 81.40% average at home mark for Sonny and Erly. His official score would give an incredible fourth place to this upcoming duo, with the judges united on 83.58%.
Who best to conclude two days of top class dressage action that ten times National Champion Carl Hester, who brought forward Charlotte Dujardin’s electric En Vogue for their first shot at the LeMieux National Champion crown. With outstanding ground cover in the extensions, lovely lightness of the forehand in all his work and great collected movements, En Vogue looks a bright talent for the future for BD patron and dressage maestro Carl. Speaking to us after his great test Carl said, “He feels about 20 hands! That was Utopia’s music and I made the same mistakes as I did then, he was really on form for all of the test though. He’s straight and expressive in the changes and the pirouettes were the highlight for me, he’s a natural sitter so his hind legs really come down to the ground and he takes weight so well.
“He’s talented in everything, he has no weaknesses and I just need to put the polish on it now.”
Commenting on how great the opportunity of a LeMieux National Championships was Carl continued, “We’ve been looking forward to this for such a long time, it’s right in front of Christmas and there’s so much to do at home but it’s so worthwhile.” Carl was delivered his immense score of 86.50% live on air and concluded, “I’m stoked with that! It’s so good!”
After two days of competition at Hartpury, it would be three from three for Charlotte Dujardin who today claimed both the Horse Health Grand Prix Freestyle title and the overall LeMieux National Grand Prix Champion crown. Charlotte also took the overall runner up spot with twice second placed superstar Gio, and Carl completes our podium for a stellar effort on a horse who looks set for greatness.
With the top ten all posting scores over 74%, the future looks bright for British dressage as 2021 beckons with two major continental Championships as well as the action closer to home to look forward to.
British Dressage congratulations all riders who travelled to Hartpury to give us, and the viewers at home, a thrilling battle for the LeMieux titles. Thanks go to BD partners LeMieux for their continued support of the National Grand Prix Championships, to Horse and Country and the Spectator Judging app and to all the team onsite for putting on a super event…the show must go on!